China pollution

Beijing air pollution goes from bad to worse

Key index from US Embassy shoots above 350 and authorities maintain 'yellow' smog warning amid growing calls for action against pollutants

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 September, 2017, 3:59pm

Air pollution went from bad to worse in Beijing, after residents of the capital and surrounding areas again found themselves inundated in thick smog, leading to broader calls for a solution.

On Tuesday morning, the US embassy’s air quality index (AQI) reading for Beijing stood at 495 and “hazardous” at 11am, after having reached 517, or “beyond index”, at 6am.

The index rates anything over 150 as “unhealthy”, over 300 as “hazardous”, while a reading above the upper limit of 500 is regarded as “beyond index”.

Meanwhile, the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Centre gave the figure at 10am as 393, indicating the air in the capital was “severely polluted”.

The centre says pollution across Beijing is expected to persist because there is little wind to disperse pollutants. It advises city residents to stay indoors as much as possible. 

Yesterday municipal weather authorities retained the "yellow" smog warning as visibility remained below 3,000 metres.

Air quality index readings in much of downtown Beijing, as measured by the local environmental watchdog and the US embassy, shot above 350 yesterday - a significant increase from Sunday.

The US embassy's air quality readings, published hourly on its Twitter feed, showed the level of PM2.5 rose drastically throughout the day to 496 at 4pm- far above the "hazardous" level of 300 micrograms per cubic metre.

The Beijing Municipal Environmental Centre, which is under the city's Environmental Protection Bureau, rated air quality in most of the city as being seriously polluted, as PM2.5 readings fluctuated between 340 and 360.

When the level of PM2.5 in the air surpasses 100, it is deemed unhealthy for people with heart or lung disease, older adults and children, and those groups should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion, particularly outdoors, according to advice given by the US Embassy.

The smog also appeared to have spread farther to southeastern regions, with flight disruptions being reported yesterday morning at 10 mainland airports, including in Hebei's Shijiazhuang and Henan's Zhengzhou .

Visibility at the Shijiazhuang airport was reduced to around 100 metres, forcing the cancellation of at least seven flights, and in Zhengzhou more than 10,000 passengers were stranded by 11.30am, as up to 150 flights were either cancelled or delayed, China National Radio reports.

Tsinghua University sociologist Li Dun , who specialises in environmental studies, said the resurgence of smog should serve as a wake-up call to the public, showing how bad the air quality can become when little is actively done to remove the pollutants.

"Any concrete solution could only be formulated via broader access to air quality information by academics, as well as in subsequent public debates," he said. The professor said the situation mirrors that from the 1980s, when academics advised policymakers to refrain from encouraging private car ownership in such a populated country, and instead put more emphasis on improving public transport systems. But that advice largely fell on deaf ears, and car emissions are blamed for much of the smog seen today.

Greenpeace clear air campaigner Zhou Rong said that while the public may have to come to terms with smog being a normal part of life in the winter, the government must take rapid steps towards reducing emissions in the long term.

"What's even more important is that policymakers learn to anticipate potential pollution problems before coming up with macroeconomic plans; otherwise it might just be too late, and there's too little we can do when the air is bad."


Youtube video: an artist's solution